Review: L.A. Noire

May 30, 2011, By Christian Davis

It’s 1947 and you’re a rookie detective that’s quickly rising to the top. You’ve bagged two of the most likely suspects and it’s now time to interrogate them for the murder of a helpless woman. The first is the husband of the victim who was caught with blood on his shoes. The other is a repeat pedophile who was brought in thanks to the victim’s blood stained jewelry being in his possession. One of these two is going to be seeing the inside of a jail cell for the rest of their lives for second degree murder. Convict the right man and you’re a town hero and head detective in the chief’s eyes. Botch this case, and you’ll be back to writing parking tickets with the other less than stellar cops. Your career and reputation is on the line. Make the right choice.

These are the intense situations that you’re constantly put in while playing Rockstar’s new crime thriller L.A. Noire. Set in the most dangerous period in Los Angele’s history, you take control of Detective Cole Phelps, a decorated war hero who’s rapidly rising to the top of the ranks in the LAPD. Unlike most of Rockstar’s titles, L.A. Noire has you playing a good guy for a change. Not the renegade who sells drugs on the side or the outlaw who’s trying to start life over. You’re a cop in a city submerged in corruption, greed, and death.

The atmosphere in L.A. Noire is unlike any other game out there. 1947 is such a unique and untapped period in the industry and it’s great to see it brought to life. Rockstar’s latest has such refreshing feel the norm and it’s much appreciated. The art deco buildings and skyscrapers, classic cars, fashion, and locales are all portrayed with pinpoint accuracy. You’d swear that the development team, Team Bondi, had a time machine. There’s a lot of little touches in the game that are really cool once you notice them. Turning on your siren, will cause all cars in your path to pull to the right curb or when commandeering a vehicle, you pull out your badge instead of knocking the civilian out. It’s great to be a cop.

Los Angeles is buzzing with excitement due to Hollywood’s glitz and glamour, but that is overshadowed by the ugly head of crime, where the game centralizes on. As a member of the LAPD, you’ll be spending all your time solving these graphic and gut wrenching crimes.

Each case is presented in an episodic fashion, not too dissimilar from Remdy’s Alan Wake. The title of the crime is displayed while a brief movie plays; showing the crime committed by a shadowy figure. When the intro has finished, you’re dropped right into the mission and you’ll be on your way to the crime scene immediately. From then on, you’ll be driving with diverse humorous partners from location to location questioning civilians and searching for clues.

Searching for clues is one of the most crucial parts of the game. Going for a more realistic approach to crime solving, objects aren’t shining on the ground letting you know they’re there. You literally have to find them yourself. For some, this can be a tedious process. When your controller vibrates, it’s signifying that there’s something in the environment that you can interact with. There’s a lot of stuff in this game and a lot of it is useless trash. You’re walking into every object you see in hopes that it is important and can be used as evidence. A lot of the time, it’s not.

This is where the intuition points come in. Intuition points are awarded to the character for leveling up for closed cases. These intuition points provide the players with incredible benefits such as locating all important clues in an area for a short amount of time or if used during an interrogation, the player can eliminate an answer or highlight the correct piece of evidence when questioning a suspect. These intuition points are optional of course and you can go through the entire game without using them if you wish. Searching for clues is important, but what you do with the clues in the interrogations is what will either make or break the case.

The interrogations are the real highlight of the game, thanks to the voice acting and new Motion Scan technology. There’s been a lot of talk about the new and highly impressive Motion Scan technology that was used to capture life like facial animations. Facial expressions such as frustration, hesitancy, or anxiety are all easily recognizable and really help when you’re unsure if a suspect is telling the truth of giving you the run around.

However, there are times where you’d think the game was cheating.  There are suspects who are telling the truth but for some unknown reason, they’re eyes are darting and trying to avoid eye contact with you the entire time. Naturally you’d think they were lying and then you’ll find out that you chose the wrong answer. Or someone who’s telling the truth puts on a smirk that makes it seem like they’re lying. It does get frustrating at times and you just start to guess.

There are only three options available when interrogating the suspicious characters of Los Angeles: Truth, Doubt, and Lying. Select one of the options and Cole will respond accordingly. Unfortunately, Cole happens to be one of the rudest cops around. If you try to be subtle and select Doubt, you’d swear you chose “yell and curse them out” because that’s exactly what he does. If you doubt someone, calling them a liar is probably not the correct thing to say. Thankfully, you’ve got some incredible voice acting so it’s bittersweet. With actors from highly acclaimed television shows such as Made Men lending their voices and faces in the game, the lines between games and film are blurred and will remain that way forever. This truly is a step forward in games becoming more cinematic like films.

Interrogations and searching for clues are all part of the main cases that will progress the story. What‘s a Rockstar game without side missions and collectibles though? We’ve got several in this title, though fans may be disappointed that there aren’t as many as the Grand Theft Auto series for example. While traveling to major case points, you’ll have the opportunity to take care of petty crimes that are occurring. Dispatch will notify you of a crime and if you decide to take it, a new point of interest will show up on your radar.

These missions are fun little distractions from the main case. There are shootouts, car chases, foot chases, stopping suicide jumpers, and more. There are only 20 of these side missions available, though that’s not really a bad thing. The side missions are great, but you’re so invested in the main story line you feel like they’re getting in the way. You also never feel like you really have time to do the missions. With the Grand Theft Auto series there are dozens of moments where you’ll get the chance to do what you want and truly explore the city. In L.A. Noire, you’re always told to go directly to a crime scene and you never feel like you have free time. I took a side mission while on the way to someone’s apartment. After I completed it, I headed back to the main objective and saw the apartment was trashed. I thought nothing of it until the case was closed and the game stated that the apartment would have been in better condition if I showed up on time. I had no clue that some of these missions were time sensitive and I became hesitant to take on any of the side missions. L.A. Noire is still an open world game, but it just doesn’t allow as much freedom as some of Rockstar’s other titles.

Along with the side missions, there are also a few collectibles that you’ll either love or hate. Riding in a certain amount of different cars and finding famous land marks are some of the options you can do. There are a lot of cars in the game and finding different models is surprisingly hard. A lot of them do look very similar and taking the time to chase one down to find out you have already driven in it, makes the task a tad tedious.

One of the more interesting options is the collection of newspapers. These newspapers give flashbacks to side stories for characters that aren’t directly connected to you. Each time you stumble across one of these newspapers, you don’t really know exactly what is going on or why it’s even relevant.

There really isn’t much wrong with crime thriller L.A. Noire. The atmosphere is life like and very energetic. Searching for clues is fun and you really feel accomplished when you uncover something essential to solving a case. And the interrogations scenes and voice acting have set a new industry standard. Rockstar and Team Bondi have done an incredible job and you definitely need to pick up their latest game.

 

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